Melbourne, September 1995
“Is that all the man sings? ‘How does it feel?’”
Hannah, five years old, is making a play-dough birthday cake. Jesse, nearly three, is drawing a map of the world. I’m podding peas.
For several days the children have been singing and dancing to The Wiggles, Bananas In Pyjamas and Peter Combe. Fine performers all, but they start to grate on you the fifth or sixth time in a row. In a day. Talk about a high rotation playlist.
So I put on some Dylan, to hear something other than Wake Up Jeff! Or Lulu’s dance-club/disco/hip-hop mix of the Bananas In Pyjamas theme song.
“That’s a big CD,” says Jesse, as I take the record from its sleeve.
The children don’t see records too often, given that the records are tucked away, hidden behind the toddler’s cot. So it’s been a while since I’ve played The Times They Are A Changin’ or Nashville Skyline or Slow Train Coming.
Or, today, Highway 61 Re-visited.
I place the vinyl record on the turntable and show the children how the needle must be placed on the spinning disc. They wonder why there’s no remote control, as is there is for the CD player. I wonder what they’ll make of Dylan.
After a few choruses of Like A Rolling Stone, Hannah says “Is that all the man sings? ‘How does it feel?’”
I recite the chorus. I show Hannah the cover of the record, tell her the title of the song, and the name of the album.
This leads to a discussion about stones, rolling, the numbering of highways and the meaning of re-visiting. Perhaps a five year old can grasp Dylan’s enigmatic verbosity. Thousands of adult fans have tried and failed but that is the wonder of Dylan’s songs anyway: image after image, some brilliant, some rubbish, some glorious, some gibberish.
I don’t expect my children to become instant fans. Or fans at all. I was about my daughter’s age when Highway 61 Re-visited was released in 1965. It was another 10 years before I bought my first Dylan record. (The double-live-album Before The Flood. $9.95. On lay-buy.)
Hannah continues with her cake. Jesse is still drawing his map. I keep podding peas.
Hannah starts swaying to It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.
The eerie organ of Ballad Of A Thin Man rumbles from the speakers. “This is a bit spooky, a bit scarey,” says Hannah.
Then, the sweet notes of Desolation Row. Jesse chimes in from the kitchen table. “This is pretty.” They’re selling postcards of the hanging…
As the long song meanders I recall Paul Kelly singing it at The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda. A rare night out in the midst of life as a new parent.
The children wander off to other parts of the house. The needle lifts itself off the record. Quiet.
Jesse appears with the children’s cassette player. “Where’s the Wiggles’ tape, Dad?”
First published in Rhythms magazine, October 1997
Melbourne, February 2018
Hannah now listens to RRR and 3MBS and her four year old daughter’s playlist: about 60 songs that are a mix of kids tunes, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Jackson 5, The Beatles, The Kinks, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley , The Police, Alicia Keys and lots of songs from movies like Frozen and Moana.”Recently Olive said she loved Me And Mrs Jones by Billy Paul. I have been listening to Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac on Spotify and let it choose what to play. I also listen, on vinyl, to Leah Senior and Gabriella Cohen, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, and Joni Mitchell.”
Jesse now listens to Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Tourist, Angel Olsen, The War On Drugs, Freddie Gibbs, Jamie xx, Nas, and more. “I liked Desolation Row again when I started listening to Dylan, mainly Highway 61 Revisited, when I was about 15. With my mate Max, I saw Dylan at The Palais, St Kilda, about two years ago. With my mate Robbie I played Dylan and a lot more driving down a Highway 61 through Mississippi on our way to New Orleans a short while back.”
Reuben, our youngest, plays drums, studies music, and buys lots of vinyl: Homeshake, Mac De Marco, Sufjan Stevens, Panda Bear, Radiohead, King Gizzard & the Wizard Lizard, The Murlochs…One of Reuben’s uni mate’s favourite albums is Blood On The Tracks.